State v. Doucet

Citation359 So.2d 1239
Decision Date19 December 1977
Docket NumberNo. 59784,59784
PartiesSTATE of Louisiana v. Roger Dale DOUCET.
CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana

Raymond D. Fuljenz, Lake Charles, for defendant-appellant.

William J. Guste, Jr., Atty. Gen., Barbara Rutledge, Asst. Atty. Gen., Frank T. Salter, Jr., Dist. Atty., Adam L. Ortego, Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty., for plaintiff-appellee.

DENNIS, Justice.

The defendant in this case was convicted of an armed robbery, La. R.S. 14:64, which occurred at the Parkside Grocery in Calcasieu Parish on May 31, 1976. The State's case was based primarily on the testimony of a store attendant who selected defendant's picture after being shown two photographic line-ups by law enforcement officers investigating the crime. The testimony of the store attendant was corroborated by a revolver obtained through a warrantless search of defendant's automobile. Of the several arguments raised on appeal, the primary contention of the defendant is that the weapon should not have been admitted as evidence in the case.

The same revolver was also involved in a prior case, in which defendant was charged with an armed robbery at a 7-11 Food Store in Calcasieu Parish on June 24, 1976. In that case the defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress. Following a hearing, the trial court on November 12, 1976 ordered the evidence suppressed after finding that it had been seized during an unlawful warrantless search of defendant's vehicle. The State on that date orally informed the court of its intention to seek supervisory writs to review its ruling. Approximately five months later, on April 4, 1977, the State filed an application in this Court for a writ of certiorari, which we initially refused to consider because it appeared to be untimely. On April 18, 1977, this Court granted the State's motion to reconsider the application and upon so doing vacated its previous ruling and decided to consider the application on its merits. After further study this Court on May 13, 1977, issued the following order: "Writ denied. We find no error in the trial court's ruling." 345 So.2d 505 (La.1977).

In the instant case, Doucet did not file a pretrial motion to suppress, but during trial he did seek to prevent the introduction of the revolver into evidence by attempting to file a motion to suppress and by objecting on the grounds that a different judge of the same district court had previously decided that the evidence was inadmissible in another prosecution involving the defendant. The trial court overruled the objection, denied defendant the right to file a motion to suppress, and admitted the weapon into evidence.

Defendant contends that the State was collaterally estopped to offer the evidence over a defense objection because the court's ruling thereon would amount to the relitigation of the unreasonable search and seizure issue which had been decided previously in another case. The contention of the State is that the court's order suppressing the evidence in the prior litigation was not a final judgment; therefore, the doctrine of collateral estoppel should not apply.

In Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970), the Supreme Court held that the federal rule of collateral estoppel is embodied in the Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy which is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Collateral estoppel "means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit." Ashe v. Swenson, supra, 397 U.S. at 443, 90 S.Ct. at 1194. Although first developed in civil litigation, it stands for an extremely important principle in our adversary system of justice. As Mr. Justice Holmes said in United States v. Oppenheimer, 242 U.S. 85, 37 S.Ct. 68, 61 L.Ed. 161 (1916), "(i)t cannot be that the safeguards of the person, so often and so rightly mentioned with solemn reverence, are less than those that protect from a liability in debt." 242 U.S. at 87, 37 S.Ct. at 69. (quoted approvingly in Ashe, supra, at 397 U.S. 443, 90 S.Ct. 1189).

Moreover, the decisions have made it clear that the rule of collateral estoppel in criminal cases is "not to be applied with the hypertechnical and archaic approach of a 19th century pleading book, but with realism and rationality." Ashe v. Swenson, supra, 397 U.S. at 444, 90 S.Ct. at 1194. The inquiry must be "set in a practical frame and viewed with an eye to all the circumstances of the proceedings." Sealfon v. United States, 332 U.S. 575, 579, 68 S.Ct. 237, 240, 92 L.Ed. 180 (1948) (quoted approvingly in Ashe, supra, 397 U.S. at 444, 90 S.Ct. 1189).

Guided by these judicial principles we turn to the issue presented in this case: Is the State, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, precluded from introducing into evidence in another trial evidence which has been declared inadmissible at a motion to suppress hearing held in connection with another charge?

This Court has recognized that the doctrine of collateral estoppel is fully applicable to a former judgment in a criminal case, State v. Jackson, 332 So.2d 755 (La.1976), and has been "elevated to the dignity of a constitutional right." State v. Cain, 324 So.2d 830 (La.1975). However, this is the first time we have been called upon to invoke it to bar the relitigation of an order to suppress evidence. Since Ashe v. Swenson, which applied the doctrine to preclude a second trial on the merits did not expressly address the issue presented here, we will consider the jurisprudence of other state and lower federal courts in deciding the res nova question.

A survey of the decisions reveals that a satisfactory answer to the question is not readily available. A number of courts have concluded that the doctrine of collateral estoppel does not require the prosecutor to abide by a former court decree suppressing evidence because it is not a "final judgment on the merits." E. g., State v. Greenwood, 565 P.2d 701 (Okl.Cr.App.1977); Cook v. State, 35 Md.App. 430, 371 A.2d 433 (1977). If these decisions attempt to follow Ashe v. Swenson, they represent a strict and mechanical interpretation of the language of that case which, in our opinion, disregards the reasons for the concept of collateral estoppel and how its formulation there by the Supreme Court was influenced by the facts of the case.

In one of the cases upon which the Supreme Court in Ashe relied in stating why the doctrine should be available in criminal cases, United States v. Kramer, 289 F.2d 909 (2d Cir. 1961), the court of appeals discussed at some length the rule's underlying policy. In part, the Court stated:

"The very nub of collateral estoppel is to extend res judicata beyond these cases where the prior judgment is a complete bar. The Government . . . may not prove the new charge by asserting facts necessarily determined against it on the first trial, no matter how unreasonable the Government may consider that determination to be." Id. at 916.

Another work which the Ashe court cited and quoted from extensively, Mayers & Yarbrough, Bis Vexari: New Trials and Successive Prosecutions, 74 Harv.L.Rev. 1 (1960), sets forth the basic policy considerations for applying collateral estoppel in criminal cases as follows:

"Collateral estoppel in civil cases is grounded upon the belief that the burden of relitigation upon parties and upon the judicial system outweighs the possibility of injustice in perpetuating an erroneous determination in an earlier suit. Continued relitigation acts as a drain upon the finances, time, and energy of the individual party. Further, absent the finality provided by collateral estoppel, a successful litigant would not be able to rely upon a prior determination as assurance that he may continue his conduct or that he may plan his economic life free of the possibility of being forced to pay a judgment. Finally, relitigation results in waste of public funds and the valuable time of courts with already crowded dockets, and delays the opportunity of other citizens to gain initial adjudication of their claims. While the need to reach just results in legal matters is certainly a primary consideration, these results can be adequately achieved by allowing a plaintiff one full and fair hearing plus an opportunity for impartial review through appeal. A miscarriage of justice resulting from inability of counsel must in the nature of our judicial system be borne by the losing litigant; erroneous decisions uncorrected on appeal are not common enough to support a different principle.

"In the criminal law the possible waste of judicial resources seems somewhat diminished in effect. Criminal matters are less numerous than civil, prosecutors are less liekly to attempt relitigation than private persons, and the issues of fact in criminal litigations are likely to be less complex and time-consuming. However, a single criminal suit is likely to involve a greater expenditure of public funds since it involves the additional expense of prosecution. A policy forbidding reexamination of issues encourages care in the preparation and presentation of the prosecution's initial case.

"The weight of the harassment factor is considerably increased in the criminal law. Initially one recognizes the increased disparity in the resources of the parties; the government has available relatively large amounts of funds and legal manpower to utilize in successive actions. Further, a new action is a more serious matter for the defendant than in the civil context, since he may be incarcerated pending the new trial if bail cannot be obtained. Even without imprisonment awaiting trial, the strain of potential reprosecution is greatly magnified. Furthermore, one who faces a second prosecution based on a different statutory offense will certainly be deterred more easily from engaging in conduct which the court in the first ...

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